Contribution of Excessive Alcohol Consumption to Deaths and Years of Potential Life Lost in the United States

Mandy Stahre, PhD, MPH; Jim Roeber, MSPH; Dafna Kanny, PhD; Robert D. Brewer, MD, MSPH; Xingyou Zhang, PhD

Suggested citation for this article: Stahre M, Roeber J, Kanny D, Brewer RD, Zhang X. Contribution of Excessive Alcohol Consumption to Deaths and Years of Potential Life Lost in the United States. Prev Chronic Dis 2014;11:130293. DOI:

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From 2006 through 2010, excessive alcohol consumption accounted for nearly 1 in 10 deaths and over 1 in 10 years of potential life lost among working-age adults in the United States. Furthermore, an average of 2 out of 3 AAD and 8 out of 10 alcohol-attributable YPLL involved working-age adults. Although AAD rates varied by state, the national annual average AAD rate of 27.9 deaths per 100,000 population was higher than the average annual death rate for 10 of the 15 leading causes of deaths from 2006 through 2010 (12). The majority of the average annual AAD involved males (71%); over half of AAD and two-thirds of YPLL resulted from acute causes of death, all of which were by definition attributable to binge drinking. About 5% of all average annual AAD and 10% of average annual YPLL involved those under age 21 years, most of which were due to acute conditions.

The average annual estimates of AAD and YPLL for the United States from 2006 through 2010 are similar to the 2001 estimates (5) and emphasize the substantial and ongoing public health impact of excessive drinking in the United States. The differences in age-adjusted AAD and YPLL rates in states probably reflect differences in the prevalence of excessive drinking, particularly binge drinking, which is affected by state and local laws governing the price, availability, and marketing of alcoholic beverages (13). The differences in AAD and YPLL rates in states probably also reflect other factors, including access to medical care and vehicle miles traveled, which could affect the risk of death from alcohol-related conditions (13,14). The higher rates of AAD and YPLL among men than women probably also reflects the higher prevalence, frequency, and intensity of binge drinking, the most common pattern of excessive alcohol consumption, among men (15).

The substantial contribution of excessive alcohol consumption to total deaths and premature mortality among working-age adults (20–64 y) in the United States, as well as the large proportion of these deaths (69%) and YPLL (82%) that involved working-age adults, is consistent with studies assessing the contribution of harmful alcohol consumption to the global burden of disease (16) and also reflects the substantial effect that excessive alcohol consumption has across the lifespan. The concentration of AAD and YPLL among working-age adults is also a major factor contributing to alcohol-attributable productivity losses from premature mortality, which, together with reduced earnings by excessive drinkers, was responsible for 72% of the estimated $223.5 billion in economic costs from excessive alcohol consumption in 2006 (2).

The findings in this report are subject to several limitations. First, data on alcohol consumption used to calculate indirect estimates of AAF are based on self-reports and may underestimate the true prevalence of excessive alcohol consumption because of underreporting by survey respondents and sampling noncoverage (17). A recent study that used BRFSS data found that self-reports identify only 22% to 32% of presumed alcohol consumption in states on the basis of alcohol sales (18). Second, risk estimates used in ARDI were calculated by using average daily alcohol consumption levels that begin at levels greater than those typically used to define excessive drinking in the United States. Third, deaths among former drinkers, who might have discontinued their drinking because of alcohol-related health problems, are not included in the calculation of AAF, even though some of these deaths might have been alcohol-attributable. Fourth, ARDI does not include estimates of AAD for several causes (eg, tuberculosis, pneumonia, hepatitis C) for which alcohol is believed to be an important risk factor, but for which suitable pooled risk estimates were not available. Fifth, ARDI exclusively uses the underlying cause of death from vital statistics data to identify alcohol-related causes and does not consider contributing causes of death that might be alcohol-related. Finally, age-specific estimates of AAF were only available for motor-vehicle traffic deaths, even though alcohol involvement varies by age, particularly for acute causes of death. While our results do show the substantial burden of alcohol-related consequences, many of the limitations cited could result in a substantial underestimate of the true contribution of excessive alcohol consumption to total deaths and YPLL in the United States.

This analysis illustrates the magnitude and variability of the health consequences of excessive alcohol consumption in the United States, and the substantial contribution of excessive drinking to premature mortality among working-age adults. More widespread implementation of interventions recommended by the Community Preventive Services Task Force (19), including increasing alcohol prices by raising alcohol taxes, enforcing commercial host (dram shop) liability, and regulating alcohol outlet density, could reduce excessive alcohol consumption and the health and economic costs related to it.

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